4th March 2016: Premier League Preview – Can we find the right recipe to topple Tottenham?

Friday greetings. We face Sp*rs in the early kick-off tomorrow of course and after three defeats on the bounce, I suppose the big questions are: who will Arsene Wenger choose to start the game? And can we put a stop to our recent rot by winning at White Hart Lane to make ‘power-shift’ proponents think again, whilst hauling ourselves right back into title-winning territory?

In terms of team selection, we know that David Ospina will come in for the injured Petr Cech, who Arsene confirmed today would be out for up to four weeks with the calf injury he sustained against Swansea on Wednesday, and Gabriel will retain his place in central defence alongside Per Mertesacker, as Laurent Koscielny is still sidelined.

You would assume Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal will remain at full back but given the latter’s made 33 starts in all competitions so far this season, which is exceeded only by Mesut Ozil’s 34, I do wonder if Kieran Gibbs’ fresher legs may be a way the boss feels he can add some energy to his side – particularly against Mauricio Pochettino’s hard-running outfit.

I do view Monreal as our undisputed first-choice at left-back, but this will be his fourth game in 12 days were he to start. The former Malaga man’s not the only one who’s endured that demanding recent work load though, so I’ll guess we’ll see. That said, even with all the effort and determination in the world, if we don’t come up with a game-plan that works better than ours have done in our last two games at least, we’ll be in trouble.

I think Arseblog hit the nail on the head in his post this morning, when he suggested that we don’t know what we’re doing as a team. We have no discernible style of play and in my opinion, that’s down to our central midfield area, as regular readers will already know and possibly be a tad bored by.

At risk of sounding like a broken record then, with Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin as a midfield pair, we have nobody to dictate our play. In that duo, Coquelin is the specialist ball-winner, but what role exactly is Ramsey fulfilling?

Now I have no idea if Mohamed Elneny will be good enough to hit the ground running as adequate cover for Santi Cazorla’s sublime distribution from the middle of the park, but with Jack Wilshere also injured, he’s our only candidate. Unless you drop Mesut Ozil in there, which is not as bad an idea as it may sound at first in my opinion.

In fact, I’m torn between Ozil and Elneny as to who should partner Coquelin, but if we went with the former, the fact we would then have nobody obvious (don’t say Ramsey – he’s even less a number ten than he is a deep-lying play-maker) to fill in for Ozil further forward, makes me lean towards the Egyptian.

The only alternative I see is to contain and counter, like we attempted against Barcelona last week, and like we succeeded in doing at home against Bayern Munich earlier this season. I have no doubt at all that our lack of cohesion in this area of the pitch is adversely affecting out performance both in defence and in the final third. A lack of control, composure and coordination in our midfield spreads to both ends of the pitch and to my mind, if we remedy that issue, we’ll start looking and playing like a team again and the wins will follow.

So with all that in mind, I’d go with: ‘play Elneny, look to control possession and take the game to Tottenham’, over, ‘stick with Ramsey in the middle, and either produce another disjointed display, or sit back and hope to counter them’. And as such, my starting selection, fitness permitting, would be:

Ospina; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal; Coquelin, Elneny; Campbell, Ozil, Sanchez; Welbeck.

I think with that XI, we would be fielding the strongest defence we have available, on paper our most complimentary and functional deep-lying midfield duo, the best goal-creator in the league in a free role, two industrious wide players boasting both a goal-threat and defensive diligence, all topped off with the best all-round striker at the club. A player who can stretch a defence with pace like Theo Walcott, and hold the ball up and link play like Olivier Giroud – our two other striking options.

But crucially, without Ramsey, Walcott and Giroud, we have ten outfield players, with the possible exception of big Per (although he is usually a very reliable passer), who are comfortable in possession and collectively, should much more easily find a common wavelength. It’s all in the chemistry and too often recently, our pH levels have been aimlessly sliding the scale.

It feels like every game we play at the moment is billed as a must-win, despite there being over a quarter of the league season yet to be played, but you can understand the sentiment.

By the end of tomorrow’s Premier League action, we could be any one of nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, or three points behind the leaders. So not only is tomorrow’s game a north London derby with a title-contesting difference, in a way, it’s potentially also a nine-pointer, in the countdown to the crown.

Back post-match.

COME on Arsenal. COME. THE. F*CK. ON.

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